Signage, Hunter Springs Park hours and the water quality of King’s Bay became the main talking points at Crystal River City Council’s latest meeting.
Here’s what happened the evening of Monday, Sept. 12:
Warm temperatures, lacking rains, fertilizer runoff and infrastructure appear to be the reasons for recent algal blooms in King’s Bay, like the blue-green algae discovered Sept. 1 in the canal outside of Three Sisters Springs by the Florida Department of Health in Citrus County
Will Bryant, the environmental health director for the local health department, told council on Monday algae test results did not show the presence of toxins.
Bryant and City Manager Ken Frink said hot weather and stagnant waters from below-normal rainfalls have created prime environments for algae to multiply, especially in dead-end canals where fertilizers spilling over from waterfront lots have helped feed the algae.
Lisa Moore, board president of the Save Crystal River (SCR’s) nonprofit, also gave council a presentation Monday about the floating eelgrass leaves originating from SCR’s King’s Bay Restoration Project, and what’s being done to clear them.
Since 2015, the restoration project has been vacuuming unwanted materials off the bottom of King’s Bay to make way for native eelgrass plantings, which have so far spread over 200 acres.
Moore said the eelgrasses shed around 80 percent of their four-foot-tall leaves in the winter to conserve energy, but low boat propellers and dragged anchors have worsened the issue. Along with being an eyesore, the detached leaves also shade plants underwater from sunlight.
“This is a small problem compared to where we were with all that Lyngbya,” Moore said.
Sea & Shoreline, SCR’s project contractor, deployed a custom-built surface-skimming vessel to remove floating eelgrasses in areas of King’s Bay already permitted by state and federal agencies to be maintained as part of the restoration project.
SCR has been working to get the permits to restore and maintain an additional 72 acres, on top of the 92 acres the group promised to clean by July 2023, allowing the skimmer vessel to access more locations.
“You just need to be patient,” Moore said to those living in unpermitted areas. “I can’t give you a magic answer.”
Council, with the absence of Councilwoman Cindi Guy, voted 4-0 to overhaul Crystal River’s ordinance regulating signage in the city to be consistent with a 2015 U.S Supreme Court ruling for local governments to have content-neutral sign standards.
For instance, if someone can differentiate the type of sign being regulated by either reading its subject or knowing its author, the regulation is probably unconstitutional.
Staff in the city’s Planning & Community Development Services, directed by Brian Herrmann, rewrote the original code, most of which was adopted in 2010, to establish easy-to-follow design standards for developers that would also promote the city’s image.
Councilman Pat Fitzpatrick asked Monday how city officials decided to prohibit electronic signs from changing messages in less than seven minutes.
“I don’t understand that; you can drive through Crystal River and drive back in seven minutes,” he said. “Maybe we should not have electronic signs at all.”
Herrmann agreed but acknowledged there’s a balance between static signs and mirroring the Las Vegas Strip.
“It’s a fine line,” he said, “but, right now, they’re pretty much frozen.”
Vice Mayor Ken Brown and Councilman Robert Holmes were on city council in September 2015, when it decided after lengthy public comment and debate to compromise on a seven-minute time limit for electronic signs, according to prior Chronicle reports.
“Many people speaking didn’t want them at all,” Brown said Monday.
Prior to the time limit, electronic signs in commercial zones along U.S. 19 and State Road 44 were allowed to change messages once a day.
“We really were opening up Pandora’s Box if we didn’t set a limit and everything,” Holmes said Monday, “so we erred cautiously with the time limit, and I think that can be a discussion.”
“I think it’s a little long,” Mayor Joe Meek said, “but I also agree it could be a bigger issue.”
Frink said there’s less than 10 electronic signs in the city.
“I guarantee you that if you open it up,” Brown said, “there’s going to be a lot more than 10.”
Frink suggested council approve the city’s restructured signage ordnance, and revisit time limits for electronic signs at a future hearing so the public can comment on the topic.
Council members were OK with the proposed hours for the city’s Hunter Springs Park, but favored giving city administration the responsibility to set park operating times.
City staff introduced council Monday to an ordinance slating Hunter Springs Park’s hours:
From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. between either April 1 or the start of Daylight Savings Time and Labor Day, Sept. 5; from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. between Labor Day and Oct. 31; and from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. between either Nov. 1 or the last day of Daylight Savings Time and March 31.
Council will vote on the ordinance during an Oct. 10 public hearing.
Its vote will be a formality as Frink already put those hours into effect after Labor Day in response to the public’s opposition to prior park hours included in a series of new rules for Hunter Springs Park council adopted in July.
City residents and park visitors implored council in August to nix the hours because they limited how long working and schooling families could enjoy the park while the sun is up.
“We’ll take the blame for this,” Frink said Monday about city staff’s error with the hours.
Brown said the decision to set park hours should be left to the discretion of city administrators, not council members.
Frink agreed but suggested council first approve the Hunter Springs Park hours being proposed to bring the park’s unofficial hours into compliance.
In the meantime, Frink said he’ll discuss Brown’s recommendation with city staff to draft a future agenda item for council to consider.